Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell taught me the definition of archetype and I can’t get my head around how Tarnas paints early Greek philosophy with the same brush. It kinda works as in I think I see his allegorical use but Form and Idea (with a capital F and I), I don’t know. It seems to me he is taking 2500 years of human assimilation of their ideas and the human conclusions down through the years and projected back onto Socrates and Plato to present their beliefs here.
I was kind of also wondering what people thought about this. I have not studied enough Plato to make a judgment call. What do folks think about Tarnas’ interpretation of Plato? I like this book so far, it seems like an overview of philosophy which I appreciate. But I know that Tarnas’ is making some assumptions about Greek philosophical thinking. What does everyone else think?
Tarnas brings a strong but subtle authorial voice to his interpretation of the history of philosophy. He is highly critical of the modern enlightenment focus on empirical observation to the exclusion of rational speculation. His use of Plato seeks to restore this balance by arguing that the mystical vision of real ideas in Platonic thought is a main central part of the legacy of the ancient world.
Tarnas up to this point is not concerned with arguments for or against the theories he is presenting. He is merely regurgitating the contemporarily accepted interpretation of Greek meaning.
I don’t think that Tarnas is trying to make a strong argument for one thing or the other. I think this is basically a history book to show what philosophical thoughts brought us to where we are today. It is an analysis. Certainly his choices on who the important players are in Western thought is an argument in itself. And he does bring up controversial historical views in his writings. Nova has mentioned a couple of them, i.e, the pre-historic Goddess cultures and the Sophists deterioration of Greek society. I think that unless one is an expert on this subject Tarnas offers some very useful information. It is our job as historians and philosophers to find the controversies in his work and to analyze what he is saying.
Where I find this pre-historic Goddess culture idea valuable is to place the Greek ‘cradle of civilization’ within a larger and older theory of history. The old myth of a descent from a golden age through ages of silver, bronze and iron, found in the Rig Veda, Hesiod’s Works and Days, and the book of Daniel, is a way to help conceptualise this effort. By this idea, as I see it, the golden age was about 14,000 years ago and was a time of sexual equality. The rise of bronze and then iron technology enabled male power, matching the Biblical myth of the fall from grace. Tarnas argues for a return to sexual balance, an argument that is advanced by seeing Neolithic culture as in some ways superior to modernity. His reading of Plato is feminist, seeing idealism as a balanced way to restore sexual equality.
We can try to put a longer scale theory of human development within the framework of glaciations and their effect on migration and economic and social activity. History on glaciations is at Last Glacial Period
Humans have been around for two million years, if we include the 100,000 generations of homo erectus, and for tens of millions of years if we include the time before we split from the apes. The last few thousand years are a short blip in the long history of human evolution, and are even a short blip within the long 100,000 year history of Homo Sapien. The movement of homo sapien from Africa through Arabia to India occurred 100,000 years ago, and is subject of precise genetic analysis through evolution of human DNA. Our long history, especially in India but also around Europe and Asia, and originating in Africa, forms the real cradle of civilization.
India was Paradise, the Garden of Eden, the setting for tens of thousands of years of peaceful human life. In 2000 BC, a massive earthquake changed the path of the Sarasvati River, home of worshippers of Brahma. The people of the Sarasvati region migrated to Israel, with their identity only remembered in the myth of Abraham and Sarah. The long story is the emergence of humanity from Africa into India, peaceful evolution over tens of millennia in India, and the creation of Israel as a result of migration from India of a people formed within the bigger genetic history of human emergence from Africa. Human genes evolved in Africa and were incubated in India. India is the cradle for the emergence of the Semitic religions who take their descent from Abraham.
Tarnas encounters a fragmented understanding of our real evolutionary story in the history of Western philosophy. Plato was well aware of the rise of bronze and iron as destroyers of peace in the warrior culture of Greece. Plato imagined an ideal picture of how human life could be governed in peace and stability, setting ideas of justice, equality, love, beauty and good as goals, and accepting the myth of human decline from a previous ideal world.
For Tarnas a big part of the lost picture can be pieced together by looking at how the ancients saw astronomy. Plato has a cyclic vision of time, with the Timaeus
saying that wisdom is the recognition of identity and difference in the process of change. The symbol of identity is the Milky Way Galaxy, existing unchanged for ever the same on human timescales. Plato’s symbol for difference is the solar system, with the movement of the planets causing time and change. Plato's model of the relation between the solar system and the galaxy is why we call the Great Year of precession of the equinox the Platonic Year, as the unit of the earth’s natural spin wobble period. Study of the Platonic Year provides a framework to interpret identity, difference, change, time and eternity. The Great Year is the temporal horizon for the old theories of the golden, silver, bronze and iron ages, and the seven days of creation in the Bible, as aligning to the natural 25,765 year cycle of precession.